When you think of the term “Parrot Sanctuary”, many images or memories of past visits or work may come to mind. You might have an idea of what a sanctuary does and does not advocate for, how they treat visitors, or the level of care provided for their residents. However, reality does not always align with our expectations!
As a term, “animal sanctuary” does not carry a strict legal or regulatory definition. The United States federal Animal Welfare Act hasn’t recognized or suggested unique “parrot sanctuary” standards. Even though the language in the Animal Welfare Act declared “warm-blooded” animals to be covered by it, birds were excluded. There have been changes to that over the years but not to the extent that is really required to have protections for birds outside of animal research. However, the USDA is now considering adopting regulations that will hopefully provide protections for parrots. It remains to be seen if these regulations will be helpful or possibly unhelpful for parrot sanctuaries. They have not formally changed the current regulations but it may happen soon.
Perhaps due to this lack of definition, there are a wide variety of organizations across the world that have chosen to use “Parrot Sanctuary” as a description for their mission. Some parrot sanctuaries also refer to themselves as avian sanctuaries. They may or may not take in other avian species, such as canaries or finches. Others refer to themselves as exotic avian sanctuaries, to indicate they exist for birds that are not native to the country in which the sanctuary operates, and in most cases, they focus on parrots (which includes budgies and cockatiels.
So when we at The Open Sanctuary Project talk about sanctuaries, how are we defining a parrot (or other animal) sanctuary? And what kinds of organizational decisions may fall short of our criteria? Here are some guiding philosophies to think about:
Parrot Sanctuaries Should Be A Place Of Non-Exploitation
The most important thing a parrot sanctuary needs is a culture, philosophy, and strict policies in place to ensure that their residents are not subjected to exploitation. By “non-exploitation”, we mean that residents (or other non-resident members of their species), and anything that comes off of or out of them, are never used either to generate profit or to perpetuate a culture of animal exploitation or harm.
Some specific examples of this exploitation may include:
- Selling the feathers, including shed feather, of residents for human use
- Advocating for or allowing humans to interact with scared or unwilling residents
- Commodifying resident visits or photo opportunities (see below)
For more information about how an animal sanctuary can avoid harm to animals, check out our resource here.
Parrot Sanctuaries Should Not Be Motivated By Profit
Parrot sanctuaries, whether legally designated as nonprofits or not, should not be profit-driven enterprises. The primary purpose of a sanctuary should always be to provide sanctuary to parrots in need. If a sanctuary does sell non-exploitative products or services, the profits should be used for the benefit of the animals and others like them rather than personal gain.
Parrot Sanctuaries Should Put Their Residents’ Needs First
Residents at a parrot sanctuary must be prioritized wherever possible and practicable. This philosophy should be one of the guiding principles of how a sanctuary develops, organizes, and operates. Some examples of prioritizing residents at sanctuaries include:
- Committing to lifelong care of each resident (including providing appropriate veterinary care) or crafting a responsible adoption program
- Providing them with living spaces that will maximize their health and comfort, protecting them from predators
- Ensuring that residents who share space are not bullied or injured while encouraging bonded pairs and flocks whenever possible.
- Providing diets appropriate for each species and access to fresh water for drinking, as well as opportunities for bathing or misting.
- Providing adequate protection from the elements, appropriate temperatures, a choice of perches sizes and types, and lots of safe enrichment for these intelligent and active species.
- Not taking residents out of their homes (the sanctuary or foster home) or away from their flock-mates for non-medical reasons (exceptions can be made if it is in the best interest of the resident)
- Meaningfully designing cleaning/feeding/medical routines to avoid startling flocks or individual birds, and being aware of the impacts (positive and negative) of music, cameras, hats, singing, groups of people, etc.
- Treating residents as individuals with their own personalities and needs
- Not taking in so many residents that it negatively impacts the care of existing residents
Parrot Sanctuaries Should Take In Residents Responsibly
Sanctuaries should prioritize taking in parrots who are in immediate need of a safe place to live out their lives, with a well-crafted internal rescue policy to help guide the decision-making process. If the sanctuary provides lifetime care and does not do any adoptions/permanent foster placements into homes, then birds that are flock-phobic (afraid of other birds) or very demanding of frequent human interaction (sometimes called human-bonded), they may not be good candidates for sanctuary life and exceptions may need to be made in order to provide the best care for that individual.
Sanctuaries Should Not Breed More Parrots
There is an overwhelming need for sanctuary across the world. There are more parrots in need of sanctuary than there are sanctuaries that can provide for them. A parrot sanctuary should not breed or allow residents to hatch babies on sanctuary grounds. (In rare cases, breeding may be justified as part of an ethical conservation breeding program, but such programs are almost always conducted within the native ranges of the parrots, with carefully monitored wild release for offspring occurring.) Because you just need to ensure eggs do not get close to hatching, residents generally only need to be spayed or neutered to treat disease.
Parrot Sanctuaries Should Have Responsible Visitor Policies
Parrot sanctuaries are by no means required to allow visitors on their premises, but should they choose to allow for tours or visits, they must be crafted with the residents’ best interests in mind. A sanctuary should be a resident’s home, where they feel safe, not a place where they’re exhibited to the public for entertainment. All residents should be allowed to ignore tours or visitors, should they choose to do so. They should not be coerced into interacting with visitors, as a sanctuary is not and should never be a zoo or wildlife exhibit. Resident living spaces should be designed with the residents in mind, rather than a potential visitor’s enrichment (though there are certainly ways to give visitors a good experience while prioritizing residents!).
If providing tours, residents should always have their personal stories shared when appropriate, and be talked about as individuals rather than strictly as an anonymous collective. There should be an educational component to sanctuary tours, so that visitors have a clear idea of what has necessitated the creation of the sanctuary and how they can help be a part of the solution! This is an opportunity to educate the public about the pressing need to protect non-captive parrot populations as well as the issue of parrots being considered pets when they are wildlife.